Northern Ireland news

Conor Murphy urged to provide detail on failed PPE order as five million items released by London

Finance Minister Conor Murphy had said a deal with the Republic's government to secure PPE was in place 
Seanín Graham, Allison Morris and Paul Ainsworth

FINANCE minister Conor Murphy has been urged to provide "clear detail" on orders for personal protection equipment (PPE), as the British government announced five million items are coming to the north.

Mr Murphy said last week that a "significant order" had been placed through the Irish government for equipment from China including face masks and goggles.

However, the Sinn Féin minister admitted yesterday that the order did not go ahead, citing "major economic powers" entering the "global race" for PPE.

Mr Murphy insisted he had agreed with Dublin to place the order but it had fallen through when supply lines were bought over by others.

Dublin's Department of Health yesterday said that no joint order has been placed for PPE from China in conjunction with the Northern Ireland Executive.

A spokeswoman said: “We are ready to discuss any area where we can co-operate effectively, north and south, including on procurement of PPE and critical supplies.

“In relation to procurement, while it has not so far proved possible to place a joint order in the context of what is an increasingly challenging international environment, discussions between procurement teams are ongoing and active, and it remains our intention to continue to co-operate in this area.”

SDLP assembly member Matthew O’Toole said he was seeking answers.

"We have now had repeated promises from executive ministers that the procurement of tests, PPE and ventilators is being scaled up," he said.

"The finance minister must now provide clear detail on what additional equipment has been procured, when it will be delivered and how it will be managed. Key workers deserve that, at the very least."

UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock last night said he would “immediately” provide five million items of PPE to meet the north's needs.

It came as party leaders put on a united front at a Stormont press conference amid disputed reports that Sinn Féin and the other four executive parties were at loggerheads.

In other significant developments:

* Twelve more people died in Northern Ireland, bringing the total number of Covid-19 deaths to 48.

* Another 22 people died in the Republic, bringing total death toll in the south to 120 and the all-island number of deaths from coronavirus to 168.

* The UK death toll increased by 684 in one day, bringing the UK's total to 3,645 and overtaking China for the first time.

* The head of the HSE in the Republic said that only a "smaller proportion" of PPE that has arrived from China is unusable.

* Randox Laboratories, based in Crumlin, said that after an engagement with "various relevant statutory agencies" tests will now be made directly available within the north.

* The Prison Service said 100 prisoners were approved for temporary release from jail as part of a contingency plan to deal with Covid-19.

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